chapter  13
Bulgaria: The travails of Europeanization
ByDIMITAR BECHEV
Pages 16

Introduction Accession to the European Union brought changes to Bulgaria’s relations with the outside world. Becoming part of exclusive Western clubs such as the EU, but also NATO, had long been the principal objective of Sofia’s foreign policy. Once the goal of EU membership was accomplished on 1 January 2007, Bulgaria graduated to a stakeholder in the Union’s dealings with what Eurospeak terms “third countries.” At the time, senior political figures commented with much gusto on the change of roles, from policy-taker to a contributor in the decision-making process. As President Georgi Parvanov, speaking on the day of accession, put it, “We are entering the EU with ambitions not to be a mere consumer but rather with a wish and aspiration to strengthen the EU . . . with our ability to generate security in such a difficult, complex region as the Balkans” (Vesti.bg 2007). Much was also said and written about Sofia’s prospective contribution to the EU’s fledging policy in the Black Sea area (essentially, Moldova, Ukraine, Russia, and the three republics of the Transcaucasus). In theory, the bargain was clear: membership promised to drive up Bulgaria’s weight in regional affairs; in exchange, Bulgaria would get access to expertise, networks, and, to the extent that it was there, political capital across the neighborhood. Such rhetoric was habitual throughout the new member states (NMS), not least in Romania, the other 2007 entrant. Yet Bulgaria has been at pains to make good on these promises. Though political elites and the public have, by and large, shown consistent support for the EU, internal issues having to do with economic development and incomplete institutional reforms leave little time for foreign policy, unless it impacts directly on domestic debates and choices. The EU continues, to this day, to be first and foremost an external anchor for this painful domestic transformation, rather than an external arena where Bulgarian elites and institutions could project ideas and interests and shape decisions. Last but not least Bulgaria, being the poorest member of the Union and a small country, has traditionally lacked the resources to back up a more ambitious and assertive foreign policy channeled through Brussels. This does not mean that the EU’s influence, in all its shapes and forms, has not left its stamp on Bulgaria’s dealings with neighbors, nearby regions, and the

wider world. Rather it implies that the process has been protracted, uneven, and susceptible to contingencies as well as influenced by personalities (Bechev 2009). This chapter looks at some key aspects of this story in the making. It does so by drawing on the burgeoning literature on the Europeanization of member states’ foreign policies, aptly laid out in the editors’ introduction. At its most basic, the scholarship in question hypothesizes that the “upload” of national agendas in the direction of Brussels institutions is intimately related to Europeanization, understood as the EU’s top-down impact on member states’ “politics, policies and polities” (Featherstone and Radaelli 2003). In line with this proposition, the chapter claims that Bulgarian foreign policy has been “Europeanized” in the sense of socialization into what could be defined as an EU mainstream. “European” norms and values, such as the promotion of cooperative multilateralism, peaceful settlement of conflicts, and economic interdependence form the basis of Bulgaria’s approach. At the same time, the country is a classic follower in foreign policy, to use the taxonomy developed by Justin Vaisse and Hans Kundnani (2012). With a few notable exceptions, policy-taking rather than “upload” continues to be the default modus operandi. This chapter proceeds in three stages. First, it looks at how EU membership has affected institutions and procedures in the area of foreign policy-making. Second, it surveys the Union’s impact on the style and content of Bulgaria’s relations with its neighbors prior to membership. Third, it studies the interaction between Sofia and the EU after 2007 with regard to four regional arenas: the western Balkans, the ex-Soviet space, Turkey and the Middle East, and North Africa.